ROCKFORD – Rachel DaDamio has had to race in the shadow of Birmingham Seaholm teammate Audrey Belf throughout her high school career.
That’s OK. They’re friends. And don’t worry about DaDamio. She found her time to shine through the raindrops at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Track and Field Final at Rockford High School on Saturday.
DaDamio took her turn in the spotlight as she won the 1,600 run, running first most of the way, with a time of 4:46.05
“It feels so good,” DaDamio said. “I’m used to running in this weather. I run cross country. I really didn’t have a race plan today. No one really wanted to take the lead, so I did. I felt really strong. If they were going catch me, I was going to run my best. I hardly ever take the (early) lead. I run better form behind.
Belf successfully defended her title in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 10:26.58, won the last two LP Division 1 cross country titles and will be attending Georgetown University in the fall. She also was named high school female Athlete of the Year by the Detroit Athletic Club, so the spotlight has shown brightly on her the last few seasons.
As she noted, DaDamio also was part of the Seaholm cross country team, one of the best in the Midwest recently, and she understands the attention Belf has received.
“Audrey and I are such good friends. Just being a part of this team … we’ve had such strong distance teams at Seaholm. It’s so cool. My teammates are my best friends.”
DaDamio will make new friends in the fall as she’ll attend and run for University of Notre Dame.
Some who gathered around DaDamio after her victory joked she could have gone to Notre Dame even without her success in track. She graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average and never received a B for a grade, or an A-minus.
Belf said running for a program like Seaholm was “so surreal to run with my teammates.
“Rachel ran a great race. I was watching and pulling for her all the way.”
Oak Park finished with 93 points, one more than last year, to win its second consecutive team title. East Kentwood was second with 54.5 points, Northville was next with 43, Rockford placed fourth with 42 points and Ann Arbor Pioneer was fifth with 37.
Oak Park senior Ersula Farrow won the 800 run last year when she attended Grosse Pointe South, and again this year with a time of 2:08.43. The Clemson University recruit also ran on the winning 1,600 and 3,200 relay teams.
Farrow finished among the top five in the 800 all four years of high school.
“I was going for the record,” Farrow said of the 800 run. “I knew it would be hard. I’m satisfied.”
Brianna Holloway won the 300 hurdles with a time of 43.5 to also help Oak Park’s title effort.
One of the surprise winners was Sammy Cuneo of Rockford in the 400 dash. Cuneo, who will attend Center Michigan University in the fall, just began competing in the event this season. And it wasn’t her idea.
“This was like my fifth time (in the 400),” Cuneo said. “I was running the 100 and the 200 but my coach said I was tough and that I could do this. I said, yeah. I’ll prove I’m a 100 runner.”
Good thing Cuneo listened to her coach.
Cuneo entered the finals with the top time (55.44) in all LP Division 1 Regionals, but had to pass defending MHSAA champion Anna Jefferson of Oak Park in the straightaway.
Cuneo also placed second in the 200.
Junior Sekayi Bracey of East Kentwood placed first in three events, the 100 (11.83), 200 (24.62) and the long jump (17 feet, 5¾ inches). They were Bracey’s third consecutive titles in the 100 and the 200.
“I was very tired,” Bracey said after the 200, her third of three individual events. “I was tight. I just got done with the long jump. So that’s a lot.”
Bracey is undefeated in this state in the 100 and 200. Her only losses have come in national events during the high school offseason.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” she said. “I’ve got to learn to relax and just run. I do better that way.”
Events like the 200, 3,200 and the 1,600 relay were especially difficult for the athletes. Even though the rain let up, the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped.
“I didn’t think about it at all,” Farrow said. “I had a feeling it would be hard. I just had to do my best. I’m not sure about my times, but it was tough. The wind is the worst.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Seaholm's Rachel DaDamio leads the pack during her title-winning 1,600 run Saturday. (Middle) Oak Park won a pair of relays en route to repeating as LP Division 1 champion. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com. Photos by John Brabbs.)
BLISSFIELD – Last fall, June Miller raced for an MHSAA cross country title at Michigan International Speedway. During the winter she played in the Division 3 Basketball Final at the Breslin Center. In the spring, she competed at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 track & field championships in Kent City.
As she embarks on her senior year at Blissfield Community Schools in southeast Michigan, Miller isn’t concerned about an encore.
“I don’t worry about topping my junior season,” she said. “I don’t feel the need to. I’ll fight for it to the best of my ability, but if I don’t make it that’s okay. There were a lot of factors that went into last year, and I can’t control all of them this year.
“I’ll leave my best out there and know that I gave it my all, and in the end that’s the true accomplishment. If it takes me that far or further, then great. If not, that’s okay.”
Miller’s remarkable run to MHSAA Finals in three sports remains even more impressive when considering she had eight goals and five assists playing defense for the Royals soccer team.
“Shows up to work, busts her tail every practice, every game,” said Blissfield girls basketball coach Ryan Gilbert. “Never have to worry about June Miller.”
Miller is as steady an athlete as they come, never getting too high or too low in pressure situations. In basketball, Gilbert said Miller never met a shot she didn’t like. Miller started all 29 games last season, leading the team in 3-pointers.
Gilbert said Miller is even-keeled.
“It takes a while to get into the ‘June Miller circle,’ but I’m almost in,” he said. “This is her senior year; this is my year. She’s very funny when you get to know her and has a brilliant mind.
“She wants to win over everything,” Gilbert said.
Miller wasn’t the fastest runner on the cross country team last fall – that spot would belong to her younger sister, Hope. June has no problem with that.
“I love running with my sister,” she said. “She’s an amazing and incredibly kind person. Her dedication to running inspires me and keeps me fighting for it. We train together sometimes and she’s the one that pushes me, and I love that.
“I always knew she’d be faster than me someday, and I couldn’t be prouder of how fast she’s become and how much she’s achieved. (People might) think I’d hold some resentment for her beating me while I’m older, but she’s lived in my shadow for years and I’m so glad she’s been able to find her place that she can dominate.”
Blissfield is eyeing a big season in cross country after winning a Regional and just missing the top 10 at the Final a year ago. The Miller sisters are a big reason for the giddiness.
“I’m ready to leave it all out there,” Miller said. “It’s my senior season, and I want to go out strong. I think the end goal for all of us is to really push it this season and improve with each race so by the time we hit Regionals we’re in the best shape physically and mentally so we can leave it all on the course to get to states again.”
Because of her work schedule this summer, Miller missed some of the team workouts but was able to get the details from her sister and went out on her own time and trained to build up her mileage in preparation for the season.
“I think the experience from last year will give us something to fight for,” she said. “It allows us to look at the season with our end goal being the state meet. It gives us a passion and something to fight for.”
Blissfield cross country coach Ryan Bills called Miller a strong competitor.
“She is fun kid,” he said. “You never know which June you’re going to get – funny, chatty June or serious, no-nonsense June. Either way she always gives it her all during competition, which is why she has seen so much success the past year.”
The four-sport athlete spent the first couple of weeks of summer refreshing her body before kicking it into high gear.
She did take some time to reflect on all the places she got to play and compete last year and is grateful to be part of a team that helped her reach those places.
“It was a unique experience,” she said. “When I’m playing basketball or running track and cross country, I’m not focused on where I am physically – instead I’m in my head focused on what I need to do.
“Once you get to someplace, you stop thinking about getting there and you move on to the next step of being there and doing what you need to there.”
Miller is one of the top students in her class. She’s currently trying to decide whether she wants to pursue playing soccer in college. She wants to major in business and minor in sustainability, eventually getting a master’s degree in architecture.
“I want to be a sustainable design architect,” she said, “who can better the world through the art of architecture.”
Miller’s future looks bright, as does the outlook for this athletic year. In all three sports for which she reached the Finals last year, the Royals have enough returning talent to make lengthy runs again.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Miller said, about four days before the first cross country event of the season. “I want to make it to all those state tournaments again, but I want to do it with my teammates because they’re the ones that make it memorable and something to remember forever.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Blissfield’s June Miller (750) races during a cross country meet last fall. (Middle) Miller pulls up for a jumper during last season’s basketball postseason run. (Cross country photo by Deloris Clark-Osborne; basketball photo by Gary Sullivan.)